What to do when there’s nothing you can do
Part of being a mindful parent means taking a moment to think about how we parent. Most of us know what we should do, and this blog is an opportunity have a reminder to take time to actually do it! This blog is contemplating strategies for co-operation.
This MINDFUL MOMENTS blog is about focusing on how to break the cycle of children misbehaving and resisting doing what you are asking them to do. Often, what appears to be a simple request can escalate into a frustrating power struggle for both of you. We all have those moments when we grit our teeth and question why our children ‘don’t listen to a thing I say!!’ There are a number of issues to be mindful of in addressing this. Here are a few as ‘food for thought’…
In order to explore strategies for co-operation, let’s use an example of a child who although capable, refuses to get dressed after bath time…
- Preparation is key. Giving your child preparation for what is expected of them often helps them to adjust to the change in activity that is required from for example playing in the bath to getting out and getting dressed. By giving a five or ten minute warning for them to finish the task that they are busy with (we are going to be getting out the bath soon) and then explaining what they need to do next, (and then you need to dry yourself and get dressed) often helps them to adjust to the next required task. Involving them in counting down, using an egg timer or a stopwatch can be a fun way to prepare them
- The next step is to question ourselves regarding whether what we are asking our child to do is reasonable, given their age and capability, and considering the input that we are offering. It can be useful to help make tasks less overwhelming by saying things like ‘help mummy to get you ready by doing the dressing while I do the tidying up’. Doing it together while offering encouragement often makes a task more do-able for a child.
- Acknowledge their feelings and when they say they don’t want to do it, you can respond by saying ‘yes I know it’s not fun or you would rather play in the bath longer, but it’s something that has to be done and then you can go and play”. Often granting the wish in fantasy by saying things like “I wish you didn’t have to get dressed and could just stay in your towel all night, but then you would get cold and that would make us sad” can de-escalate the issue as they feel that you understand their feelings.
- Encourage a sense of independence in your child by offering choices such as would you like to wear your red or blue pyjamas and would you like to put on your shirt or trousers first?
- Be firm and convey to your child that you are being serious. Be clear about consequences and make sure your child understands the consequences of not complying in advance. Make sure that the consequences fit the task that they are required to do.
- Give them a chance to ‘make right’. It is important that you give your child a chance to comply with what you have asked and rather than repeating your demand over and over, say if you don’t do it by the time the clock reaches… then this will be the consequence. Telling them that they have one warning and then the consequence will apply also gives them an opportunity to ‘make right’.
- Be consistent and make sure you follow through with the consequences that you have agreed upon. It is essential that you only choose consequences that you are able to follow through with, as empty threats will not help them to comply in the long term. Your child needs to know that you mean what you say.
- Make sure that you can move on – once they have had consequences imposed, don’t hold a grudge as this becomes a cycle of the self-fulfilling prophecy of being a naughty child. You want them to rather have the sense of a clean slate where they can get it right next time.
- Make sure you catch them ’being good’ and doing what you ask – and offer a lot of recognition and praise for doing the task, letting them know how much you appreciate their co-operation.
- Be realistic!! All children are sometimes un-co-operative and want to assert their independence. Most of these issues can be tackled by thinking about some of these strategies and implementing them. There are however times where more specialist support may be needed, especially when defiant behaviour is intense, has a lengthy duration, interferes with their functioning at home or at school or interferes significantly with their relationships with friends, family or teachers.
These strategies are a handful of many, and they can be applied to getting dressed, doing homework, tidying up, bath time etc.